2018 Chinese Orientation booklet

One Alone (Ji1 Yu5 Seui4 Tung4)

Translated by Lisa

We are always eager to embrace more freedom. When I was in high school, I wanted to one day be able to get rid of the rules, to put on casual clothes, dye my hair, and use smartphones whenever I wanted. Freedom, as if it is what leads us towards a brave new world, the more the merrier. University seems to be a place symbolizing freedom. Here, we can make our own choices, indulging in the unfettered life, and enjoy the endless freedom of sleeping in, skipping classes, and choosing courses. However, having these freedoms also means that we need to make more choices that “we like,” and deal with all kinds of trivial matters. We have to shoulder the responsibility of decision-making. There are many possibilities and factors that need to be considered behind each choice. Therefore, when we are suddenly overwhelmed with freedom, we are at a loss for what to do. 

Simply linking freedom and happiness means neglecting to consider the value of the choice. Freedom enables us to make decisions, but the process of decision-making brings us anxiety, even the psychologist Barry Schwartz described it as “paralysis”.[1] Just like JUPAS [2] when you face the choices of nine universities and hundreds of programmes. Or like the crowded Art Fair, where students in dozens of booths are constantly stuffing flyers into your hands, inviting you to be their club members. Every time, people are required to spend time in the struggle of choices, digging the best choices for themselves, so that there will be zero regret. However, even if we have enough freedom to choose, the final result is often far from satisfactory. Overwhelming choices unconsciously raise our expectations for the outcomes, and outcomes that do not live up to expectations bring loads of disappointment. 

Each choice represents a different value, and we usually tend to choose a safer option. You may have encountered similar struggles when choosing majors. While studying philosophy is your interest, you are worried about job prospects. Although studying business is not particularly suitable for you, it seems to be more secure for your future career. If we adopt a rational mindset, we can easily list the pros and cons of the options. Therefore, the option with the lowest risk is the most popular choice. However, in reality, decision-making is often complicated and tangled, because our sensibility desires otherwise. There are values that ​​cannot be simply quantified. Therefore, the decision-making process requires strenuous efforts. 

W is my friend, and she is the first university student of her family. Her identity as a university student made her the family pride, symbolising a bright future.  However, she decided to choose a different path and quit the university. She compared her JUPAS admission process to a blind marriage and her university life as the impossible “happy ever after.” When she first entered university, she had to deal with a sudden change in status and social interaction. She had a hard time struggling, and was weary of studying in the university. Her family, not surprisingly, disagreed with her decision, so quarreling was a daily routine. Bearing a lot of pressure, she had to think about her future financial situation. 

“I don’t have as much freedom as I imagined, but what I want is to be the greatest of myself within the limits.” She made a choice to be the person she wanted to be. University life and the identity of a university student may be what many people yearn for. Except W, she desired otherwise. “Instead of paying over $40,000 tuition fees every year, I can earn more than $10,000 a month, taking one step towards my venture capital.” Freedom enables her to shape her desired life. On the other hand, university students like me and you, who also have this freedom to choose our way of life, end up finding our happiness not as sweet as we have imagined. 

Our childhood education and mainstream social values often influence our life choices. For example, we scramble to win a ticket to university because most people feel that taking the university path is a must. Naturally, our own way of thinking is gradually influenced or even substituted. As time went by, we became exactly a clone among the tens of millions, living a seemingly safe and stable life. With freedom, we want to escape from freedom. 

To be the person you want to be, to lead a life you want to live, is up to your choices. For example, business and philosophy are both valuable subjects, one can choose to become a banker or a philosopher. We make choices according to a certain situation, becoming  unique selves with certain characteristics. Choices would be meaningless if we could pre-determine ourselves. Freedom and choice are in our hands. Freedom of choice does exist as long as we are willing to bear the outcomes. Every choice we made links to the next one, or even our future. In fact, we are all looking for a suitable timing and chance to become the person we want to be. We may occasionally experience the lack of freedom, but there is never an absolutely right or wrong choice. Just like a line in the movie A Hearty Response,[3] “I am not a perfect man, and I will not ask for perfect things.” 

[1] Barry Schwartz is an American psychologist who focuses on the intersection of psychology and economics. The complete quote here is “Unconstrained freedom leads to paralysis and becomes a kind of self-defeating tyranny.” He believes that infinite choice leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. 

[2] The Joint University Programmes Admissions System, or commonly known as JUPAS, is a unified system for applying for full-time undergraduate programmes in Hong Kong.

[3] A Hearty Response is a 1986 Hong Kong romantic comedy and action thriller film, describing the love story between a mainland Chinese girl who illegally entered Hong Kong and a local police detective.


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